The interactions of normal erythrocytes and erythrocytes from patients having hemoglobin S hemoglobinopathies with normal human endothelial cells (EC) were investigated under flow conditions. When EC supernatant, containing 2.8-11.0 U/dl of von Willebrand factor (vWF) antigen and vWF multimeric forms larger than those present in normal plasma, was the red blood cell (RBC)-suspending medium instead of serum-free medium (SFM), the adhesion of sickle RBC, but not normal RBC, to endothelial cells was greatly increased (range of enhancement of sickle RBC adhesion, 2- to 27-fold). Adhesion of sickle RBC to endothelial cells was reduced to near serum-free levels when EC supernatant was immunologically depleted of vWF forms. Sickle RBC suspended in SFM containing 200 U/dl of purified vWF multimers of the type found in normal human plasma or 300 μg/ml human fibronectin were only slightly more adhesive to endothelial cells than sickle RBC suspended in SFM alone. These data indicate that unusually large vWF multimers produced by endothelial cells are potent mediators of the adhesion of sickle erythrocytes to endothelial cells. Vaso-occlusive crises in sickle cell anemia may be caused, at least in part, by adhesive interactions between the abnormal surfaces of sickle RBC and the endothelium after the release of unusually large vWF multimeric forms from stimulated or damaged endothelial cells.